For some job seekers, attending an organized networking event is like meeting your future in-laws for the first time. In other words: It’s downright frightening. One job seeker once told me she always hyperventilates before she goes to such an event.
Perhaps you feel similar symptoms of dread when you have to attend organized networking events. It’s understandable if you do. At these events, you’re expected to engage in conversation with complete strangers, deliver your elevator pitch, maintain proper posture – it can all get exhausting very quickly.
If attending networking events makes you feel uncomfortable, consider connecting with more people in your community during your job search – people like your former colleagues, your friends, your family members, your neighbors, fellow PTA members, your hair stylist, the folks with whom you volunteer, the local career center staff, etc.
Am I suggesting you avoid networking events altogether? Certainly not. These events offer important opportunities – but at the same time, so do your fellow community members.
Some important points to consider when connecting with your community as part of a job search:
1. Get the Word Out
I know many people who don’t tell their family or friends they’re out of work because of shame and embarrassment. Regardless of how you departed from your previous employer, your community has to know you’re no longer employed. Otherwise, people can’t help you.
Remember: There is no shame in being unemployed. Thousands of others are dealing with the same situation.
2. Don’t Come Across as Desperate
Employers look for confidence in candidates. The same applies to your community. Someone who appears confident about their situation is someone your community members will be willing to back. That said, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
3. Make a Good First Impression
This includes projecting a positive attitude, dressing well at all times, being considerate of people’s time, going out of your way to help others, and, of course, smiling. It’s true what they say: Your first impression is your last impression.
4. Resist the Urge to Rant
Regardless of how your employment ended, don’t rant about how unfairly you were treated or the circumstances surrounding why you were let go. If asked about your departure, explain how it happened, but don’t come across as angry. If you’re not beyond the anger stage yet, avoid talking about the situation.
5. Know What You Want to Do
Your community can only help you if you are able to explain very clearly what occupation you’re pursuing. If you have a target industry or location, that’s even better. Saying “I’ll do anything; I just need a job” is not helpful to people in your community, and it will make you appear desperate.
6. Do Your Research
What types of companies do you want to work for? Do you have any particular companies in mind? Do you know anyone who works at your desired companies? This is all important information, especially if someone in your community has a contact or two at your target companies. Casually connecting with these people by making phone calls or meeting for coffee can lead to results.
7. No Events Are Off Limits
Barbecues, holiday parties, baby showers, your nephew’s birthday party – all are appropriate places to connect with others and share your situation. Just be tactful. Don’t dominate conversations with your job search woes. Instead, briefly explain what you do and ask people to keep their ears to the pavement.
8. Carry Business Cards
Even when connecting with your community in a casual way, you’ll want to show people how serious you are about finding a job. Carrying business cards shows professionalism, and the cards themselves will help people remember what you do and the type of job you’re seeking. Plus, unlike your resume, business cards are easy to carry.
9. Never Ask Someone Outright If They Know of a Job
This only puts pressure on people. One phrase I used instead when I was out of work was, “If you come across anything, please let me know.”
10. Stay Top of Mind
Ping the people in your community with updates on your job search or just to keep in touch. Your contact with community members. Send emails or cards on special occasions. doesn’t always have to be about your job search. Ask about how their child’s play went. Staying in regular contact will keep you top of mind.
11. Always Follow Up
Perhaps the most important part of you job search is following up with the people with whom you’ve spoken. Otherwise, people may forget about your conversations with them.
A sample follow-up message might look like: “I’m following up on our previous conversation. When you get the chance to send me [contact's] contact information, I would appreciate it very much.”
Always follow your own message by asking your contact how you can be of assistance to them.
When you finally get your new job, be sure to show your gratitude by offering to help those who assisted you with your job search. It doesn’t have to be the same exact kind of help. Perhaps you can refer new clients to a community member who runs a small business, for example. The point is to keep the goodwill in your community going.
Connecting at networking events can have great benefits, and over time you’ll learn to network better. However, if you find such events nerve-racking, begin by establishing relationships with the people in your community. From there, you can build your way up to attending formal events.
A version of this post originally appeared on Things Career Related.
Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.